After you watch a few seasons of The Amazing Race, certain patterns start to jump out at you. For instance, it’s not hard to spot the non-elimination legs once you’re attuned to the rhythms of the race. You can usually sort of guess what approximate region they’ll be headed to next. And, of course, you start to see the same kinds of competitors over and over. Casting loves to seek out new and interesting relationship dynamics and personality types, but every season there’s still a certain checklist of archetypes they have to complete before a cast is ready to race. If a team hits more than one mark, so much the better, but pretty much every season you’re going to find all 11 of the following types represented, and the upcoming season is no exception.
1. The Fish out of Water
They’ve never been out of the country. Maybe they’ve never been out of the state where they grew up. They don’t speak a second language, they haven’t racked up very many frequent flier miles, and they have no idea what to expect out of the Race. But they are hardworking and resilient, and you can’t help but want them to keep going—not necessarily because you think they’ve got a shot to win, but because it’s just so great to watch their horizons expand exponentially.
Best Showing: The Bowling Moms of Season 5 were shockingly strong racers with a huge fan following. If they hadn’t been knocked out at the final 4 by an insanely physical task, they’d have been contenders to win it all.
Most Memorable: Kentucky coal-miner David and his wife Mary in seasons 10 and 11 were great, but fellow Kentuckians Mark and Bopper in season 20, with their inexplicable streak of insanely good fortune and heartwarming friendship, might well have edged them out as all-time most memorable fish out of water.
This Season: With their unique sense of style (check out that mullet!) and Alabama charm, Chuck and Wynona are the most blatantly out-of-water fish we have this season, but South Carolina firefighters Matthew and Daniel haven’t done much traveling either. Lack of travel doesn’t always signal naivete, though—both teams likely have hidden depths of street smarts.
2. The Mom and Dad
Having completed the adventure of raising their children, Mom and Dad are ready for the next adventure. While not always the physically strongest, their fellow competitors tend to feel sentimental about them, and they often surprise us with both their challenge prowess and the strength of their bond. They may be old, but don’t count them out.
Best Showing: Teri and Ian, in season 3, weren’t exactly fan favorites thanks to Ian’s mega-assy behavior, but they very nearly managed to edge out a win. They came back in season 11 with a much more mellow outlook and won over more than a few of their previous detractors, even though they failed to make the finals.
Most Memorable: Meredith and Gretchen from season 7 were the best ever Mom and Dad team, hands down. Any racer who runs out a leg after hitting her head so hard she needed stitches—and then keeps going for five additional legs after that—deserves our cheers. If there was a Miss Amazing Race competition, I would vote for Gretchen about a thousand times.
This Season: As the oldest couple in the competition, Chuck and Wynona also seem like they might fit this mold. But it’s hard to tell yet whether they’ve got mother-hen instincts, young-at-heart tendencies, or if they just want to keep to themselves.
3. The Young Dating Couple
This pair typically hails from the large university one or both of them is still attending as an undergrad, although they’re sometimes also actors and/or models. They haven’t been together long, but what they lack in team dynamics they can make up for with youth, strength, enthusiasm, and reinforced gender stereotypes. (“If we win this race, maybe he’ll finally propose! We’re 22 already, and we’re not getting any younger!”)
Best Showing: Young dating couples have historically done pretty well on the race. Numerous teams of starry-eyed youngsters have made it to the final leg, and two of them—TK and Rachel in season 12 and Megan and Cheyne in season 15—managed to beat older, more experienced teams to come out on top.
Most Memorable: These teams typically aren’t, with a few notable exceptions. Alterna-brats Adam and Rebecca, in season 6, were christened “the babies” by their fellow Racers—a nickname that ostensibly described their youthfulness, but also happened to aptly describe their attitude. Despite breaking up and getting back together about fifteen times over the course of the race, they managed to make it to the final three.
This Season: John and Jessica are attractive, wholesome, and fond of neon colors. This is all I know about them. This may be all we ever know about them.
4. The Bickering Couple
Why on earth would anybody go on national television to work out their relationship problems? We may never know, but they sure do like to do it on the Amazing Race. And for some reason they all seem to call each other “babe.”
Best Showing: Flo and Zach came into Season 3 wondering if their friendship could be something more. The answer? No. No, it could not—an answer that got hammered home when Flo decided to pursue a fling with a competitor midway through the Race. Regardless, Zach carried (sometimes literally!) his weak, histrionics-prone BFF all the way to a million dollars—and then, I think, probably never spoke to her again.
The most winning-est winners in TAR history—Season 19′s Rachel and Dave—also came from this camp, bickering their way to a record eight leg wins and a decisive victory. You might not have noticed how much they yelled at each other because they were frequently drowned out by Big Brother alumni (and fellow Bickersons) Rachel and Brendon.
Most Memorable: Season 13′s Terence and Sarah were memorable in a good way—a strong team that came prepared to win despite their frequent differences of opinion. But memorable in a bad way trumps memorable in a good way every time, and nothing’s ever going to top Season 6′s Jonathan physically shoving his wife, Victoria, at the mat. When Phil himself steps in and tells you to lay off your partner, you know you’re not being your best self.
This Season: As we’ve learned from past seasons, all it takes is one broken ox to show us an entirely new side of some relationships, but we might not even have to wait that long for “evil team” Max and Katie to have a total communication breakdown. They’ve only been living together for three months, and they’re anticipating that the race will help them work out their issues. That’s a recipe for bickering if ever there was one.
5. The Gimmick Team
Did you just spot a familiar face or two on the Race? That’s not unusual. Team Gimmick is generally there to bring in new viewers from somewhere else, whether they tune in because they’re fans of another CBS reality show, avid YouTube watchers, sports fans, or they just see some weird-ass-looking dudes in the promos and want to find out what happens to them. You’ll know them by their themed outfits and the oddly staged confessionals where they are forced to use their gimmick as an analogy for everything that happens to them on the Race.
Best Showing: Oh, Rob and Amber. We don’t know if you’re good at what you do because you’re just naturally a cut above the competition, or if it’s because you’ve collectively had more reality-show experience than any other team. Regardless, after a combined 112 days playing Survivor, they moved on to TAR and a very close second-place finish in season 7. They didn’t fare quite so well in Season 11, so Rob went back to his first love and kept on going back until Mark Burnett just up and handed him a million dollars.
The Beekman Boys, themselves reality stars after a fashion, might be the gimmickiest winners the show has ever cast, though their goat farm and other show barely rated a mention during their run.
Most Memorable: There seems to have been an uptick in gimmick teams in recent seasons. Goths, cowboys, Globetrotters, Big Brother contestants, more Big Brother contestants—take your pick.
This Season: You just know TAR producers have been trying to bring in roller derby girls for at least a few years. But Beth and Mona thankfully seem pretty down-to-earth (even THEY admit they don’t fit the stereotype), and their athletic experience will likely make them very strong racers, so I’ll refrain from judgment until I see them in action.
6. The Team That Triumphed over Adversity
Triumph over Adversity teams differ from Team Gimmick in that their defining characteristic involves overcoming a hardship of some sort. (Besides, I’m not so cynical that I’d label a physical disability a “gimmick.”) Are they out to prove that people like them can do anything people not like them can do? Are they out there to win the race for someone who can’t do it themselves? Then that, my friends, is a Triumph over Adversity team.
Best Showing/Most Memorable: Charla and Mirna will forever be the poster children for this type of team, unfortunately, and their sixth- and second-place finishes (in seasons 5 and 11, respectively) seem shockingly high in light of their frequent bouts of quasi-insanity. But the fact remains that they were strong racers, and if Charla had come into the race with a partner other than her cousin, we’d probably even call her memorable with a slightly more positive bent.
Even though they were at the center of some of the biggest confrontations in recent Race history, mother/son team Margie and Luke (seasons 14 and 18) were a hit with fans. One thing is for sure—”sinister deaf kid” is not an archetype we are likely to see again.
This Season: Father/son team David and Connor have both beaten cancer. Now let’s see if they can beat the other teams in this race.
7. The “Generation Gap” Team
One member has experience, one has youthful vigor. Together they will find out something new about each other, and themselves, as they run the Race. There’s at least one of these teams every season, and many of them go out early, but intergenerational teams that don’t get eliminated in the first three episodes tend to go pretty far—often to the end.
Best Showing: Father/daughter team Ron and Christina are the highest-placing parent/child team in TAR history, taking the silver in season 12. That was a good year for intergenerational teams, considering grandfather/grandson team Nick and Don were right behind them. Mother/son team Margie and Luke managed third place in season 14, as did father/daughter Gary and Mallory in season 18.
Most Memorable: Nick and Don performed admirably in season 12, and they have the matching Fast Forward tattoos to prove it. Screenwriter/actor Mike “Ned Schneebly” White and his dad, Mel, were also fan favorites in seasons 14 and 18. If we go all the way back to season 1, Nancy and Emily (aka “Momily”), the inventors of this archetype, will always have a warm place in our hearts.
This Season: Even without the emotional back story, David and Connor are a strong, compelling team that came ready to race. Could we have our first parent/child winners this year? …okay, maybe that’s going a little too far. We’ll see.
8. The Sexy Girls
They may not be rocket scientists. They may not be physical powerhouses. But they’ll use any trick at their disposal to get further in the race, which usually amounts to …flirting. But don’t underestimate the power of flirting. Sexy girl teams have cheek-smooched and giggled their way to the finals more than once.
Best Showing: Former pageant queens Dustin and Kandice proved that they were more than just pretty faces when they managed fourth place and third place in consecutive seasons. And then there’s NFL cheerleaders Jaime and Cara and their confrontation-plagued run to second place in season 14.
Most Memorable: Honestly, they all run together after awhile, although former Vegas showgirls Lisa and Kaylani will go down in TAR history for the miraculous social-media-fueled return of their missing passport barely ten minutes into the first leg of season 19.
This Season: Jennifer and Caroline are entertainers who’ve been charming people for most of their lives. With their thousand-watt smiles and shiny blonde hair, look for them to use their feminine wiles whenever it’s convenient.
9. The Dude-Bros
In early seasons of the Race, all-male teams tended to be fairly alpha and steamrolled over the competition. Casting wised up quickly and started fishing around for variety. While alpha male teams still show up from time to time, far more common are pairs of occasionally bumbling, often fratty guys whose affable charm makes up for any lack of competitive drive.
Best Showing: While only slightly fratty, brothers Dan and Jordan were easygoing dudes who coasted under the radar in Season 16—one of the most drama-fraught seasons of all time—to take home the million dollars. Laid-back hippie pals BJ and Tyler snarked and mugged their way to a first-place finish in season 9.
Most Memorable: In season 13, frat brothers Dan and Andrew (known collectively as Dandrew) couldn’t march in lock-step to save their lives and lost their shoes at the end of a leg. And they still managed to finish in a very respectable third place. But the original dude-bros were, of course, the much-loved Kevin and Drew from season 1.
This Season: Sure, we have a pair of professional athletes among us, which on its face screams “alpha males.” But Bates and Anthony definitely look like they know how to have a good time. We’ve also got a pair of firefighters this season to round out our “big fratty guys” allotment. I’m calling it now—at least one of these teams will primarily call each other “dude.”
And could Winnie and Pam be a rare female dude-bro team? They’re down to earth, snarky, and Winnie even describes herself as “manly and tough.”
10. The Wonder Twins
Not always actual twins or even actual siblings, the Wonder Twins succeed because of the almost telepathic connection their tight bond affords them. Their strength is their ability to communicate and solve problems—other teams might eventually break up or stop being friends after the race, but the Wonder Twins are bound by something stronger. Their chief weakness is that they tend to have similar strengths and weaknesses by virtue of having similar backgrounds and/or DNA. Also, if you’re five episodes in and you still don’t know which one is which, you may be dealing with Wonder Twins.
Best Showing: Although no actual twins have ever won the Race, Wonder Twin-esque teams have done well in recent seasons. Seasons 13 and 14 saw back-to-back sibling wins, in Victor and Tammy and Nick and Starr, respectively. We might also call Season 16′s Dan and Jordan, and season 18′s Jen and Kisha, Wonder Twins.
Most Memorable: TWINNIEEEEE! GO TWINNIEEEEEE! WHAT ARE YOU DOOOING, TWINNIE? YOU FOOL! TWINNIEEEEEEEE!! TWINNIEEEE!
This Season: Once again, we’ve got some real twins in the mix—doctors Idries and Jamil. (Want to tell them apart? Look at their glasses. You’re welcome.) They seem like stand-up guys, and they certainly acknowledge some measure of twin telepathy, but the degree to which they exhibit wonderfulness has yet to be determined.
11. The Fabulous Team
Instantly recognizable by their impeccably matched outfits and stellar grooming skills, Team Fabulous’s chief handicap is that they don’t like to get dirty and they generally don’t like to travel coach. But their self-confidence and flashiness can be charming, and they tend to find out on the race that they can tolerate a lot more discomfort than they thought they could.
No, Team Fabulous is not always a gay couple. Team Fabulous can be female, or siblings, or best friends. I would love to see a parent/child Fabulous team sometime.
Best Showing: Last season’s winners, the Beekman Boys, even had “Fabulous” printed on the backs of their matching t-shirts. And while the farmers aren’t above getting dirty, Josh’s drag-queen past hints at depths of fabulousness the show didn’t even begin to explore.
Most Memorable: Fan favorites Oswald and Danny (Seasons 2 and 11) will be forever remembered as the team that took a day off to go shopping. And Brook and Claire in Season 17 overcame a watermelon to the face to sashay their way to a neon-pink-tinged third place.
This Season: YouTube sensations Joey and Meghan are as fond of each other as they are of planning their wardrobes and fixing their hair. However they fare on the race, their collection of vintage short-shorts and bright leggings ensures that they’ll be looking good the entire time.